The Thoroughbred

Oil painting by Albert Demuyser. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Oil painting by Albert Demuyser. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Thoroughbred or Equus Ferus Caballus, is a British equine breed which is mostly known as a racing breed. The term thoroughbred is often erroneously referred to as breed purity, but actually, it only describes this specific breed. The Thoroughbred was developed in England in the early years of the 17th century, by breeding three oriental sires imported to the country from the Mediterranean Middle East (namely the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerly Turk) . In 1791, an Englishman named James Weatherby, through private research managed to publish the first volume of the General Stud Book for Thoroughbreds; he had managed to publish himself six volumes in overall before the responsibility of the book passed to the English Jockey Club. Nowadays, the General Stud Book is published in England by Weatherby and Sons.

Already since the 17th century, the Thoroughbred has been exported from England to other countries, where it would be used in the racing industry or in the genetic improvement of local breeds. Hence, Thoroughbreds have been introduced to North America, South America, Australia, Europe and Japan. The rapid development of the racing industry in North America led to the creation of a pedigree registry  called American Stud Book, similar to Weatherby’s Stud Book. The American Stud Book was firstly published in 1873 by Colonel Sanders D. Bruce and is under the responsibility of the American Jockey Club. But England and North America are not the only places where the Thoroughbred stud books are kept;there are similar registries in other countries worldwide as well.

Despite its widespread breeding for racing, the Thoroughbred is popular and winning in other disciplines as well: show jumping, fox hunting, dressage, polo, horseball, barrel racing, show hunting and combined training, to name just a few. It is also used as a police horse, with Queen of England’s ceremonial horses being the most spectacular example. What makes the Thoroughbred so popular in so many disciplines and uses are its stamina, strength, high speed and high intelligence.

The height of the Thoroughbred ranges between 15hh and 17hh. It is slim, with a long neck, a delicate head, a short back, a broad chest and short leg bones. Furthermore, the weight of a mature Thoroughbred is 450 kg on average. The breed can be found in a variety of colours, most often in bay, brown, chestnut, black and grey. In America, one can find Thoroughbreds of roan or palomino colour, which is quite rare. Patterns such as these of Appaloosa and Pinto are unacceptable for registration in the Thoroughbred stud books, but white spots on the lower legs above the hooves and under the forelock are permitted. The Thoroughbred is agile and fast, which permits it to travel very long distances at speeds up to 40 m/h and classifies it to the hot-blood category of equines. The Oklahoma State University describes precisely the physical characteristics of a horse which is eligible for registration as a Thoroughbred:

“The best guidelines for good conformation came from appreciation of what the body is required to do. Four slender legs must carry more than 1,000 pounds of body weight over extended distances, travelling at speeds of 35-40 miles per hour, yet still have the strength and suppleness to respond to changes of pace or direction as dictated by racing conditions. […]

The withers should be high and well-defined, leading to an evenly curved back. The shoulder should be deep, well-muscled and sloped along the same parallel as that on which the head is carried. From the point of the shoulder, the forearm should show adequate muscling which tapers towards a clean-looking knee which in turn tapers into the full width of the cannon. This in turn should be short and comparatively flat, with the tendons districtly set out and clean.

The pastern should be neither too long nor too short and set at an angle a little less than 45 degrees t the vertical. When viewed from behind or in front, the legs should be straight and more smoothly in unison through one plane”.

The Thoroughbred is considered to be fast, sensitive, agile, with high intelligence, strong spirit, courage and boldness.

A horse which comes from only one parent is called Grade Thoroughbred (America) or half-bred (Britain) and, depending on the training it has received, it can be used as a hunter, polo pony or stock horse.

The breeding and racing of the Thoroughbred were luxurious leisures for the wealthy in the old times; now they have become a rather profitable industry, with multi-million-dollar cash flows. With tens of thousands of foals born each year, the economic benefits resulting from this business is felt at local and national levels, as it puts financial contributions to a number of industries, such as agriculture and veterinary science. It is a source of substantial state revenue as well, with approximately $500 million earned from taxation yearly.

On this blog we have published the documentary “Power in the Blood”, devoted exclusively to the Thoroughbred.

For more information about this breed, you can visit:


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